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Charlotte Area News

Parents Push Back on Proposed Changes For Some PreK-8 Schools

Gwendolyn Glenn
Student assignment meeting at Reid Park Academy

Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board members are set to vote on the controversial student assignment plan on Wednesday. If approved, 7,100 students -- 5 percent of CMS’ enrollment -- would shift to new schools. Most are elementary students, such as those at three prek-8 schools in West Charlotte. The plan would break these schools up, but many parents find the proposed changes unsettling.

First some background. Seven years ago when CMS closed three struggling, high-poverty, predominately African-American middle schools in West Charlotte, it was a big deal. Concerned parents and teachers packed often tense meetings on the closures to hear the board’s rationale.

Credit Gwendolyn Glenn / WFAE News
Many students at Reid Park Academy, a PreK-8 school, attend classes in trailers.

In the end, the majority on the board voted to close the three middle schools and eight others in mainly African American, low-income communities. The three middle school’s students were sent to eight struggling West side elementary schools, which became Pre-K- 8th grade schools.

“The way this was implemented, it didn’t work,” said Dee Rannkin, head of the education committee for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Black Political Caucus. “They just separated them and said we’ll put elementary here and middle school here and we’re gonna put together a bunch of trailers and there’s no way you can really get a good education in a trailer park.”

That plan was unpopular with most parents but many got used to it and some even like it. So now, seven years later, they feel they’re getting jerked around again. Under the proposed student assignment plan, three of the PreK-8 schools, Reid Park, Westerly Hills and Bruns academies, would become PreK through fifth grade schools. Reid’s and Westerly’s middle school students would move to Wilson Middle, one of the schools closed seven years ago. It’s scheduled for a $5.4 million makeover. The reassignment is contentious because Reid Park received an "F"ranking from the state and Westerly a "D" ranking.

Credit Gwendolyn Glenn / WFAE News
Parents wade through the proposed student assignment plan at a meeting at Reid Park Academy.

“Bringing two failed schools together at Wilson makes no sense,” said Angela Edwards, Reid Park’s PTO president..

At a sparsely attended but feisty community meeting on the plan, Ricky Hall, a community leader, told school officials they are once again pushing a bad plan on Reid Park parents.

“For too long you’ve shared power over us and not shared power with us. These proposed changes are unacceptable. We’re not going to take it anymore and sit back and let this happen,” Hall said.

Credit Gwendolyn Glenn / WFAE News
Community leader Ricky Hall (r) is against sending Reid Parks students to Wilson Middle School when it reopens.

CMS Assistant Superintendent Kondra Rattley says it’s workable because the plan calls for a magnet school at Wilson to improve the curriculum.

“Wilson can be brought up to par and brining the Westerly and Reid Park middle grades doesn’t fill Wilson so it can have room for the magnet computer science program as well,” Rattley said.

The change would not break up the concentrations of poverty at the schools, one goal driving the student assignment plan. Ninety-nine percent of the students at both schools would still be low income, and Westerly would still be overcrowded.

The same would be true at Ranson Middle School. It would go from 79 percent utilized to 115 percent. That’s because Bruns Academy’s sixth and eighth graders would be assigned to Ranson. Ranson seventh grader Terrell Williams told board members that concerns him.

“I’m an energetic person and because of small classes, my teachers and social service workers give me strategies to direct my energies positively without me being labeled but rather understood,” Williams said.

In addition, the number of low-income students at Ranson would go from 60 percent to 65 percent. Dee Rankin, who likes the plan overall, disagrees with this part of it.

Credit Gwendolyn Glenn / WFAE News
The student assignment meeting at Reid Park Academy was sparsely attended, but tense at times.

“Ranson has become a dumping ground. Ranson will become over utilized with this change with students from all the West side going into one middle school and there could be other options. Ranson is at its limit,” Rankin said.

Board member Thelma Byers-Bailey, who represents the area and has concerns about the plan, says she was not surprised by the residents’ opposition to it. She says they need more time to digest it and so does she.

Credit Gwendolyn Glenn / WFAE News
At Reid Park Academy, school board member Thelma Byers-Bailey says she and parents need more time to fully understand the proposed student assignment plan.

The administration is fast tracking it,” Byers-Bailey said. “Whether we agree to continue with that fast track is a vote because we can vote to accept the whole thing, piece by piece or none of it or put it on a delay. We have that choice.”

The school board will have another public hearing on the reassignment plan on Wednesday and is scheduled to vote on it that same night.